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How My Smartphone Helps Me Thrive With ADHD

If you frequent social media, you will most likely have seen multiple posts and articles about the potential ills of smartphones and their negative impact upon the lives of their users. Though these articles often make valid points, I have some points of my own to add to this discussion. As a woman with the combined type of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) my smartphone is my best friend and most trusted (and affordable) personal assistant. When I think about how generations of people before me with ADHD struggled through life without such a fabulous tool, my heart hurts for them. It has changed my life by breaking down barriers that limit my ability to reach my full potential.

Without my phone I would never make it to an appointment (never mind on time). I would be inconsistent with taking my medications, and I would always be hunting for important pieces of information. All of these things would snowball and compound my struggle with anxiety and depression, and then it’s a slippery slope from there. Here are some of the ways my smartphone routinely saves the day:

Calendar: Like most people with ADHD/ADD I’ve tried every day planner and calendar out there in a an attempt to organize my life, but to no avail. The crux of the issue is that the only way such a book works is if you remember to bring the book with you, to write in it and to reference it. For those of us with magically busy brains, there are 3432 ways this falls apart for us. Enter the smartphone. Once I established the discipline to enter information into my phone immediately, I started to create a very useful habit. Now when I’m standing at the counter at the doctor’s office booking a follow-up appointment, I get my phone out and directly input it into my calendar. No more business cards with my appointment written on it to help me remember (because let’s be honest, I would lose the card before I even had a chance to forget to look at it again).

I used to feel rushed and stressed about the idea of taking up time to get my phone out and to input it and read it back to the receptionist, as opposed to just taking the card and shoving it in my purse and being on my way. However, I am a human worthy of taking up time and space. I’ll repeat that, I am worthy of taking up whatever time and space I need to be my best self. The confidence that has grown from that belief for me has been amazing. You may be wondering how I got there. Well in the beginning, it was absolutely an exercise in “fake it till you make it” — a teeny tiny seed of truth I nurtured by simply saying it until I started to believe it. Once I started to see places in my life where this truth was applicable, like asking additional questions of the pharmacist about a new anxiety medication despite the feeling that there is a line of 43453 impatient, angry people behind me, it continued to grow.

I am deserving of taking up whatever physical space I need and want. I will not make myself smaller for anyone. I will not deny my needs for self-advocacy. If I need to take a few seconds to find my phone at the bottom of my purse, then that’s what I will do, without apologizing for it. I’ve learned through this practice that the person waiting behind me, for the most part, is a patient, kind human who is so busy thinking about their own life that they don’t even notice or care about what I’m doing. Plus, I’ve learned that my brain is excellent at building up these assumptions to levels that don’t actually make logical sense.

One important thing to note about using the calendar on my phone to organize my life is that entering an appointment into my calendar is not enough. Without an alert (or two) it’s no different than writing it down in a day planner I’d never look at again. I live by a two-alert system. I set one alert for the day before and a second alert for one hour before. This system has not failed me yet. The day before reminds me to make sure my life is set up for the next day, and the hour before reminds me with enough time to get myself organized and get there in the event that I did totally forget (which hasn’t actually happened to me since I started adding the day before alert).

Medication reminder apps: I am a human whose brain needs pharmaceutical support to produce the brain chemistry I need to thrive. I am so thankful to be living in 2018 in Canada and to have access to medications to help my brain achieve its optimal functioning. However, my brain likes to interfere. First, my forgetfulness (thank you ADHD) can get in the way, especially if something interrupts my morning routine. If I do remember, my mental illnesses show up and try and convince me I don’t really need my medications, from the idea that missing them “just this once” is no big deal, all the way to believing I don’t need medication and I’m “better” and can function without them.

All of these are lies. I need that medication every single day without fail. Without medication, I am verbally impulsive, forgetful, anxious and spend my time swinging back and forth from sadness to joy to frustration like a squirrel on espresso. Without daily and consistent medication I cannot reach my full potential as a human, especially as a mom, partner and educator. I recently stumbled upon a fabulous free app that allows me to input all my medications, doses and set reminders. It produces graphs (which my brain loves!) based on my compliance with my medication schedule which acts as accountability for me, a key for my brain. You can even set up a person who gets alerted if you don’t take your medication as a greater level of accountability.

To Do lists: I love writing lists. Now, remembering to take the list with me, to refer to it later and to update it is another thing completely. This is where the notes feature on my phone comes in. From packing lists for trips to ideas for projects to grocery lists I put it all there and it’s always with me. It’s been an incredible tool to store anything important to write down like that pesky WiFi password you always have to look up.

Photos of papers and contact info: Anyone who knows me will tell you I have a deep passion for photography. I doubt many of them would know that this passion is one of the gifts from my ADHD brain. My ADHD makes remembering difficult, especially details, so I’ve come to rely heavily on photos because they act as a great trigger to remember. Beyond photos of people, places and experiences, I’ve learned that taking photos of things like business cards, signs, receipts and posters is incredibly helpful and useful. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been scrolling through my photos of an outing with my partner to notice a photo I took of a poster with critical information about an upcoming event I would otherwise have totally forgotten about.

Screen captures: I would like to find the team of humans who developed screen capture technology and give them all high fives and big gold stars because they have changed my life. I know many neurotypical people who swear by bookmarks as a way of retracing their online steps back to information they need, but my brain regards bookmarks the same way it does day planners and written calendars. In keeping with the theme of photos and visual images, screen captures allow me to instantly grab the information I need and tuck it safely in my photos for quick access.

Back up your photos: Reliance on technology such as our smartphones seems to have become one of the core components of life in 2018 North America. However, there is inherent risk in putting all your eggs in one proverbial basket. After hearing all the the ways I’ve come to deeply rely on my phone (especially all the data I store via photos) it’s scary to think of the many perils which put it at risk. There are many apps out there that allow free web-based storage so you can automatically backup your photos. There are numerous other features, depending on the app, that can make your life easier by just taking care of things in the background for you. I would encourage you to look into a system to regularly (and automatically) backup your photos. You are worthy of such a safety net.

Getty image by Foto Duets.

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